Tested In Non-League Play, Virginia Tech Is Prepared for ACC Gauntlet

The Hokies have a difficult road ahead, and it starts at Duke. (Jon Fleming)

Ask Mike Young where Virginia Tech (8-4, 0-1 ACC) is after its non-league slate and he’ll give it to you straight.

The Hokies, seated No. 28 in the NET rankings and No. 22 by KenPom, are a top-35 team in both offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency. They played three road tests – Navy, Maryland, Dayton – and won twice. The loss to the Flyers, coupled with defeats in Brooklyn vs. Memphis and Xavier, were close. Only the 19-point Wake Forest loss in the ACC opener sticks out like a sore thumb.

“We were 8-3 in non-league play and a tip-in away from 9-2,” Young said to the media on Monday morning. “We’re okay. We’re okay. Wish we had been a little bit better, yeah. Wish we had a better outing against Wake at home, ACC opener at home. Wake Forest played better than we did. So, we’ve got 19 left: Nine at home, 10 on the road.

“We all get greedy, would like to have another win or two, but all-in-all, we played a difficult schedule, too. Hope it is recognized. We’ve challenged our team, and I do think in doing so, we have prepared them, us for the rigors that lie ahead in ACC play.”

At the moment, Virginia Tech is 2-4 in Quadrant 1 and 2 games – 1-1 in Q1, 1-3 in Q2. With the ACC having a “down year” in comparison to previous years, however, only four teams rank in the NET’s top 50: Duke (8), Virginia Tech (28), Wake Forest (33) and North Carolina (50). Four others – Clemson (67), Louisville (77), Florida State (78) and Virginia (84) – round out the top 100.

Here’s what that means for Virginia Tech’s schedule moving forward:

Above is the Hokies’ slate broken down by quadrant. The next two games at Duke and North Carolina are Quadrant 1 opportunities, and there are only so many of those. The schedule is weighed down with Quadrant 3 games. But to be an NCAA Tournament team – or a favorable seed, at that – the team needs to pick off some Quadrant 1 and 2 victories.

Some of the teams that are on the border of the different quadrants because of their NET rating are Louisville, Florida State and Virginia. There’s no doubt that will fluctuate over the next few months.

Nevertheless, those numbers put emphasis on this next two-game trek down Tobacco Road for Virginia Tech. There won’t be many similar chances over the course of the season, and there’s always a chance Clemson, Tech’s final regular season opponent, drops out of the Q1 restrictions.

The Road Ahead

That – the opportunity to win ACC games in tough environments on the road – is why the Hokies challenged themselves in November and early December, to prepare for these opportunities.

“It was by design,” Young said. “I thought this team would handle it well. We have sputtered a bit, but all in all, I think pretty good. I tell you one thing, I don’t want to go back to Dayton ever again. But Cameron is hard, it’s intense and they’re really good. North Carolina will be an interesting atmosphere, great facility.

“I don’t think we could’ve done anymore to best prep this Hokie team for what lies ahead in those ten road games in the league, and I’m excited about it.”

It all starts with Duke on Wednesday, and there’s a quick turnaround to North Carolina next week with Christmas in between.

The Blue Devils are No. 6 in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom, and No. 19 defensively. They don’t turn the ball over – No. 4 in TO% – and don’t allow opponents to get to the free throw line – No. 3 in FTA/FGA.

Future NBA lottery pick Paolo Banchero is surrounded by talent, including Wendell Moore, who has been exceptional. Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels are dangerous in the backcourt, and Mark Williams wreaks havoc inside. On top of that, Coach K’s final team, in usual Duke fashion, pushes the pace a million miles an hour.

“It’s everything,” Young said of keeping the Blue Devils out of transition. “I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw somebody that shot it from three so quickly in a possession and shoot it well. Man, you have to be there on the catch, and connected with Keels, Roach, certainly Wendell Moore, and man, he’s playing good ball. Now, you get that covered up and here they come running rim-to-rim with Mark Williams or Banchero.

“They’re really, really good yet again, and it looks like this as good of a Duke team… as I’ve seen in some time.”

Virginia Tech’s offense has really ebbed and flowed. Some days, like Friday’s thrashing of St. Bonaventure, the Hokies were on. Other times, like the road loss at Dayton, they couldn’t find a rhythm.

Yet, while that may be the deciding factor in games to come, the defense is what propels Tech in every contest. The team is No. 20 in adjusted defensive efficiency, one spot behind Duke, and ranks tenth in three-point defense.

“We are doing a better job of being there on the catch, we are doing a better job of not allowing guys, these young people, shoot the thing so well, not as much if they have a bounce to it,” Young said. “I do think we’re doing a better job there.”

Hunter Cattoor has been a fantastic defender this year for Virginia Tech. (Jon Fleming)

Hunter Cattoor has been terrific as of late. Outside of leading the Hokies with 21 points, a season-high, against the Bonnies, he’s been their best defender. Young joked that when he arrived as a freshman, he couldn’t even guard David Teel, the Hall of Fame columnist from the Richmond Times-Dispatch. A lot has changed.

“He’s guarding the other team’s best player, and to look at that track record over the last three weeks is pretty darn remarkable,” Young said of Cattoor’s defensive efforts. “He’s super smart and is where he’s supposed to be. And a lot of times when you draw that assignment, the other team’s best player, that’s your total focus, is guarding that person.

“Now, we can’t play that way with anyone. He’s got to be in proper positioning. He’s got to dig off the post when the thing goes in there. And then close out to a really good player, most of which can floor it, one bounce, pull-up jump shot, get to the rim, to Mutts and Aluma, which we can’t have happen, we have to keep fouls off of them. He’s been exceptional.”

Young & Co. need more displays like that from Cattoor, combined with good motion offense and a connected effort on both ends, to get good results in the next week at Duke and North Carolina.

8 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Will our guards handle the pressure against elite talent? Will Mutts and Aluma stay out of foul trouble?

  2. Hokies all, if we play our “A-game” we have a small chance at a W. Duke can go 8-9 deep with super quality players, at best we go 5-7. Duke will use the “Memphis model/blueprint” of pressure and physical play… until we learn how to handle that we won’t beat many teams.

    GO HOKIES, a W for Christmas would be super.

    1. I wonder if anyone still uses our game a month ago at Memphis as a model, to the extent of ignoring what we’ve done since. The W would be terrific, agreed.

  3. Virginia Tech Is Prepared for ACC Gauntlet“. Unfortunately, probably NOT (dang it). We are 0-1 in that gauntlet so far soon to be 0-3. Hopefully the team will be tough, but I m keeping my expectations low.

    1. Being a pessimist is good for not being disappointed. I still have some hope that Coach Young and team have a little more than the pessimistic view gives credit. In any case I’ll be behind them and rooting for the Hokies.

  4. This is as tough a non-conference schedule as I’ve seen – hopefully pay dividends down the road.

Comments are closed.